September 6, 2009
July 21, 2009
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Source: Al Jazeera
Say the words Chechen rebels and most people think of the Beslan school massacre and the Moscow theatre siege, in which hundreds of civilians were killed.
Most people might also think that the war between the Chechens and Russians in the remote mountainous region of the Caucasus is over, but this is not the full truth…
July 18, 2009
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From beyond the grave: A searing indictment of Putin’s protegé
A report by Natalya Estemirova, the Russian activist murdered in Chechnya as she investigated human rights abuses
Friday, 17 July 2009
The abductions in Chechnya started nearly a decade ago. In 2000, Russian forces took control of practically the entire territory of the republic, and started extensive mop-up operations in villages.
Thousands of murders and abductions took place; these operations were declared to be an efficient method in the fight against rebels. In reality, however, the troops and police were looting the houses of unprotected civilians, at times taking away everything from them, from cars and furniture to shampoos and female underwear.
Most horrifically of all, women were raped in front of their male relatives, and all the men were detained, from teenagers to old men: they were either cruelly beaten, or released for ransom, or else they disappeared forever.
Large-scale “mop-up” operations stopped after 2003, but the abductions did not. Most often, one or two people would be taken from their homes in the middle of the night. Some were fortunate to return home barely alive after several days or weeks of cruel beating and torture – always ransomed by their relatives. But if the family of the abducted person could not gather the necessary sum or find the mediator, a dead body would be found some time later, or the victim would disappear for good. There were also those who – after their disappearance – appeared in court and were sentenced for grave crimes, despite their insistence that they had only confessed under prolonged torture.
Many things would change when Ramzan Kadyrov became President of Chechnya in 2007. Large-scale reconstruction began; Grozny changed by the day, its streets newly covered with asphalt and houses boasting plastic window frames and fresh plastering. Observers started talking about the wonders of the young President. From the inside the renovated houses did not look so beautiful, with no interior works done, and no proper utilities ensured. Since then, Kadyrov has attempted to engineer a further change of ideas. The President is advancing his campaign for a “revival of spiritual traditions”… making women and young girls “dress properly”, and above all wear headscarves in public.
Meanwhile, Kadyrov invites Russian pop celebrities to Chechnya and gives them lavish presents. No one dares to ask how these visits are sponsored, or how they comply with the Chechen “tradition”. No one dares to object to anything Kadyrov says or does, just as no one dared to object to Stalin’s words or deeds in the former Soviet Union. Peace in the republic and the successes in fighting terrorism are widely advertised; yet in reality rebel fighters frequently attack policemen, the numerous branches of the military structures constantly clash, and people keep being abducted. The main difference now is that many disappear only for some days and return beaten, terrified and therefore mostly silent.
Political observers claim Kadyrov is ruling over Chechnya independently of Russia. Is it really so? Tens of thousands of Chechens pining away in Russian prisons would not agree. Neither would the hundreds of thousands of war victims, or the relatives of the killed and missing. And the outflow of Chechen refugees to European countries is not subsiding. On the contrary: more and more people are trying to leave. A dictatorship is being cemented in a small European territory.
UN and EU officials compare the situation with the events of 2000, and note indubitable improvements. But what was the reason for destroying so many cities and villages, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians and… introducing state terror justified as a “fight against terrorism”? Was it not to crush the society and force it to make an artificial choice between democracy and stability? The Kremlin is satisfied with the current suppression in Chechnya of any attempts to act and think independently.
An extract from a 2,600-word article by Natalya Estemirova on the situation in Chechnya written in August 2008 but never published
May 14, 2009
The so-called “death squads”, consisted mainly from the Russian Special Forces, participate in the war in Chechnya and in Caucasus.
The murderers were picked on a voluntary basis. They were engaged in killings of relatives of the Mujahideen and those who sympathized with them.
Two Russian “high-ranking officers”, the members of one of the gangs of “death squads”, have told to the British edition of The Times about the “unofficial” methods of struggle with the Mujahideen and with their relatives, as well as the techniques of torture.
According to the newspaper, the murderers presented themselves as “Andrei” and “Vladimir”, not naming their surnames for security reasons. They called themselves “zaichiks (little hares)”.
According to them, the prisoners and the hostages were tortured with a hammer and electricity, the bodies then were either buried in unmarked pits or “pulverized”.
According to the murderers, one artillery shell was placed between the legs of the victim and one over the chest, adding several 200-gram TNT blocks and then the body was blew “to smithereens”.
“The trick is to make sure absolutely nothing is left. No body, no proof, no problem”, they explained.
The murderers told that in such a way they had finished off the 40-year-old Chechen who allegedly was a “recruiter of the female Shaheeds”.
Two “recruited” were detained together with her – one was barely 15.
“At first the older one denied everything, then we roughed her up and gave her electric shocks. She provided us with good information. Once we were done with her we shot her in the head”, the murderers tell.
April 9, 2009
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Israeli exports hit by European boycotts after attacks on Gaza
04.03.2009 | The Guardian
By Rachel Shabi
Israeli companies are feeling the impact of boycott moves in Europe, according to surveys, amid growing concern within the Israeli business sector over organised campaigns following the recent attack on Gaza.
Last week, the Israel Manufacturers Association reported that 21% of 90 local exporters who were questioned had felt a drop in demand due to boycotts, mostly from the UK and Scandinavian countries. Last month, a report from the Israel Export Institute reported that 10% of 400 polled exporters received order cancellation notices this year, because of Israel’s assault on Gaza.
“There is no doubt that a red light has been switched on,” Dan Katrivas, head of the foreign trade department at the Israel Manufacturers Association, told Maariv newspaper this week. “We are closely following what’s happening with exporters who are running into problems with boycotts.” He added that in Britain there exists “a special problem regarding the export of agricultural produce from Israel”.
The problem, said Katrivas, is in part the discussion in the UK over how to label goods that come from Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. Last week British government officials met with food industry representatives to discuss the issue.
In recent months, the Israeli financial press has reported the impact of mounting calls to boycott goods from the Jewish state. Writing in the daily finance paper, the Marker, economics journalist Nehemia Stressler berated then trade and industry minister Eli Yishai for telling the Israeli army to “destroy one hundred homes” in Gaza for every rocket fired into Israel.
The minister, wrote Stressler, did not understand “how much the operation in Gaza is hurting the economy”.
Stressler added: “The horrific images on TV and the statements of politicians in Europe and Turkey are changing the behaviour of consumers, businessmen and potential investors. Many European consumers boycott Israeli products in practice.”
He quoted a pepper grower who spoke of “a concealed boycott of Israeli products in Europe”.
In February, another article in the Marker, titled “Now heads are lowered as we wait for the storm to blow over”, reported that Israelis with major business interests in Turkey hoped to remain anonymous to avoid arousing the attention of pro-boycott groups.
The paper said that, while trade difficulties with Turkey during the Gaza assault received more media attention, Britain was in reality of greater concern.
Gil Erez, Israel’s commercial attache in London, told the paper: “Organisations are bombarding [British] retailers with letters, asking that they remove Israeli merchandise from the shelves.”
Finance journalists have reported that Israeli hi-tech, food and agribusiness companies suffered adverse consequences following Israel’s three-week assault on Gaza, and called for government intervention to protect businesses from a growing boycott.
However, analysts stressed that the impact of a boycott on local exporters was difficult to discern amidst a global economic crisis and that such effects could be exaggerated.
“If there was something serious, I would have heard about it,” said Avi Tempkin, from Globes, the Israeli business daily.
Israeli companies are thought to be wary of giving credence to boycott efforts by talking openly about their effect, preferring to resolve problems through diplomatic channels.
Consumer boycotts in Europe have targeted food produce such as Israeli oranges, avocados and herbs, while in Turkey the focus has been on agribusiness products such as pesticides and fertilisers.
The bulk of Israeli export is in components, especially hi-tech products such as Intel chips and flashcards for mobile phones. It is thought that the consumer goods targeted by boycott campaigns represent around 3% to 5% of the Israeli export economy.
March 28, 2009
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In 1948, 750 000 Palestinians were expelled from their homeland. One hundred thousand of them fled to Lebanon. They live there now, in crowded refugee camps where disease runs rife. This documentary visits the camps. Survivors of Ariel Sharon’s Sabra and Shatilla camp massacre tell their story.
SABRA AND SHATILA
By Robert Fisk
What we found inside the Palestinian camp at ten o’clock on the morning of September 1982 did not quite beggar description, although it would have been easier to re-tell in the cold prose of a medical examination. There had been medical examinations before in Lebanon, but rarely on this scale and never overlooked by a regular, supposedly disciplined army. In the panic and hatred of battle, tens of thousands had been killed in this country. But these people, hundreds of them had been shot down unarmed. This was a mass killing, an incident – how easily we used the word “incident” in Lebanon – that was also an atrocity. It went beyond even what the Israelis would have in other circumstances called a terrorist activity. It was a war crime.
Jenkins and Tveit were so overwhelmed by what we found in Chatila that at first we were unable to register our own shock. Bill Foley of AP had come with us. All he could say as he walked round was “Jesus Christ” over and over again. We might have accepted evidence of a few murders; even dozens of bodies, killed in the heat of combat. But there were women lying in houses with their skirts torn up to their waists and their legs wide apart, children with their throats cut, rows of young men shot in the back after being lined up at an execution wall. There were babies – blackened babies because they had been slaughtered more than 24-hours earlier and their small bodies were already in a state of decomposition – tossed into rubbish heaps alongside discarded US army ration tins, Israeli army equipment and empty bottles of whiskey.
Where were the murderers? Or to use the Israelis’ vocabulary, where were the “terrorists”? When we drove down to Chatila, we had seen the Israelis on the top of the apartments in the Avenue Camille Chamoun but they made no attempt to stop us. In fact, we had first been driven to the Bourj al-Barajneh camp because someone told us that there was a massacre there. All we saw was a Lebanese soldier chasing a car thief down a street. It was only when we were driving back past the entrance to Chatila that Jenkins decided to stop the car. “I don’t like this”, he said. “Where is everyone? What the f**k is that smell?”
Just inside the the southern entrance to the camp, there used to be a number of single-story, concrete walled houses. I had conducted many interviews in these hovels in the late 1970’s. When we walked across the muddy entrance to Chatila, we found that these buildings had been dynamited to the ground. There were cartridge cases across the main road. I saw several Israeli flare canisters, still attached to their tiny parachutes. Clouds of flies moved across the rubble, raiding parties with a nose for victory.
Down a laneway to our right, no more than 50 yards from the entrance, there lay a pile of corpses. There were more than a dozen of them, young men whose arms and legs had been wrapped around each other in the agony of death. All had been shot point-blank range through the cheek, the bullet tearing away a line of flesh up to the ear and entering the brain. Some had vivid crimson or black scars down the left side of their throats. One had been castrated, his trousers torn open and a settlement of flies throbbing over his torn intestines.
The eyes of these young men were all open. The youngest was only 12 or 13 years old. They were dressed in jeans and coloured shirts, the material absurdly tight over their flesh now that their bodies had begun to bloat in the heat. They had not been robbed. On one blackened wrist a Swiss watch recorded the correct time, the second hand still ticking round uselessly, expending the last energies of its dead owner.
On the other side of the main road, up a track through the debris, we found the bodies of five women and several children. The women were middle-aged and their corpses lay draped over a pile of rubble. One lay on her back, her dress torn open and the head of a little girl emerging from behind her. The girl had short dark curly hair, her eyes were staring at us and there was a frown on her face. She was dead.
Another child lay on the roadway like a discarded doll, her white dress stained with mud and dust. She could have been no more than three years old. The back of her head had been blown away by a bullet fired into her brain. One of the women also held a tiny baby to her body. The bullet that had passed into her breast had killed the baby too. Someone had slit open the woman’s stomach, cutting sideways and then upwards, perhaps trying to kill her unborn child. Her eyes were wide open, her dark face frozen in horror.
“…As we stood there, we heard a shout in Arabic from across the ruins. “They are coming back,” a man was screaming, So we ran in fear towards the road. I think, in retrospect, that it was probably anger that stopped us from leaving, for we now waited near the entrance to the camp to glimpse the faces of the men who were responsible for all of this. They must have been sent in here with Israeli permission. They must have been armed by the Israelis. Their handiwork had clearly been watched – closely observed – by the Israelis who were still watching us through their field-glasses.
When does a killing become an outrage? When does an atrocity become a massacre? Or, put another way, how many killings make a massacre? Thirty? A hundred? Three hundred? When is a massacre not a massacre? When the figures are too low? Or when the massacre is carried out by Israel’s friends rather than Israel’s enemies?
That, I suspected, was what this argument was about. If Syrian troops had crossed into Israel, surrounded a Kibbutz and allowed their Palestinian allies to slaughter the Jewish inhabitants, no Western news agency would waste its time afterwards arguing about whether or not it should be called a massacre.
But in Beirut, the victims were Palestinians. The guilty were certainly Christian militiamen – from which particular unit we were still unsure – but the Israelis were also guilty. If the Israelis had not taken part in the killings, they had certainly sent militia into the camp. They had trained them, given them uniforms, handed them US army rations and Israeli medical equipment. Then they had watched the murderers in the camps, they had given them military assistance – the Israeli airforce had dropped all those flares to help the men who were murdering the inhabitants of Sabra and Chatila – and they had established military liason with the murderers in the camps.
March 23, 2009
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Gaza war crime claims gather pace as more troops speak out
The Observer, Sunday 22 March 2009
An investigation by a group of former Israeli soldiers has uncovered new evidence of the military’s conduct during the assault on Gaza two months ago. According to the group Breaking the Silence, the witness statements of the 15 soldiers who have come forward to describe their concerns over Operation Cast Lead appear to corroborate claims of random killings and vandalism carried out during the operation made by a separate group of anonymous servicemen during a seminar at a military college.
Although Breaking the Silence’s report is not due to be published for several months, the testimony it has received already suggests widespread abuses stemming from orders originating with the Israeli military chain of command.
“This is not a military that we recognise,” said Mikhael Manekin, one of the former soldiers involved with the group. “This is in a different category to things we have seen before. We have spoken to a lot of different people who served in different places in Gaza, including officers. We are not talking about some units being more aggressive than others, but underlying policy. So much so that we are talking to soldiers who said that they were having to restrain the orders given.”
Manekin described how soldiers had reported their units being specifically warned by officers not to discuss what they had seen and done in Gaza.
The outlines of the evidence gathered comes hard on the heels of the disclosure by the Oranim Academy’s pre-military course last week of devastating witness accounts supplied by soldiers involved in the fighting, including the “unjustified” shooting of civilians.
The claims appear to add credence to widespread claims of Israeli soldiers firing on civilians, made by Palestinians to journalists and international investigators and lawyers who entered Gaza at the end of the conflict and in its aftermath.
With Israeli newspapers threatening new disclosures, the New York Times has weighed in with an interview with a reservist describing the rules of engagement for the Gaza operation. Amir Marmor, a 33-year-old military reservist, told the newspaper that he was stunned to discover the way civilian casualties were discussed in training talks before his tank unit entered Gaza in January.
“Shoot and don’t worry about the consequences” was the message from commanders, said Marmor. Describing the behaviour of a lieutenant-colonel who briefed the troops, Marmor added: “His whole demeanour was extremely gung-ho. This is very, very different from my usual experience. I have been doing reserve duty for 12 years, and it was always an issue how to avoid causing civilian injuries. He said that in this operation, we are not taking any chances. Morality aside, we have to do our job. We will cry about it later.”
These are not the first allegations of war crimes levelled at the Israeli military. Last Thursday, the special rapporteur to the UN Human Rights Council, Richard Falk, said that the assault on Gaza appeared to be a “war crime of the greatest magnitude” and called on the UN to establish an experts’ group to investigate potential violations.
Attempts by the Israeli media to publish the rules of engagement for the Gaza campaign have been blocked by the military censor, but in the past couple of weeks the contents of those rules have begun to to emerge in anecdotal evidence – suggesting strongly that soldiers were told to avoid Israeli casualties at all costs by means of the massive use of firepower in a densely populated urban environment.
Worrying new questions have also been raised about the culture of the Israeli military, indicating a high level of dehumanisation and disregard for Palestinians among the chain of command and even among the military rabbinate.
An investigation by reporter Uri Blau, published on Friday in Haaretz, disclosed how Israeli soldiers were ordering T-shirts to mark the end of operations, featuring grotesque images including dead babies, mothers weeping by their children’s graves, a gun aimed at a child and bombed-out mosques.
Another T-shirt designed for infantry snipers bears the inscription “Better use Durex” next to a picture of a dead Palestinian baby, with his weeping mother and a teddy bear beside him. A shirt designed for the Givati Brigade’s Shaked battalion depicts a pregnant Palestinian woman with a bull’s-eye superimposed on her belly, with the slogan, in English, “1 shot, 2 kills”.
The claims have sparked a bitter debate within Israel’s defence forces and wider society over the “morality” of the IDF and its behaviour in Gaza.
Since the first claims appeared, other Israeli media have run articles criticising the head of the military academy who revealed the soldiers’ testimony, while others have run interviews with soldiers denying that the IDF had been involved in any wrong-doing and questioning the motives of those who had come forward.
“I don’t believe there were soldiers who were looking to kill [Palestinians] for no reason,” 21-year-old Givati Brigade soldier Assaf Danziger was quoted by Yedioth Aharonot. “What happened there was not enjoyable for anyone; we wanted it to end as soon as possible and tried to avoid contact with innocent civilians.”